June 8, 2011 / 4:00 PM / in 7 years

Champion Kasparov puts chess at heart of learning

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov sees a hole in the European education system and he knows how to fix it -- one pawn at a time.

<p>Former chess world champion Garry Kasparov speaks during the launch of the Kasparov Chess Foundation Europe in Brussels June 8, 2011. REUTERS/Ezequiel Scagnetti</p>

Aspiring to hone children’s critical thinking, intellectual creativity and problem-solving skills, Kasparov, regarded by many as one of the game’s greatest champions, believes chess has a lot to offer education and childhood development.

When it comes to encouraging children to do better in school, he believes chess can not only sharpen cognitive skills but also cut across socio-economic divides in a way that many competitive sports cannot.

“Chess goes beyond all borders. It doesn’t have social borders or racial, even physically handicapped people can play,” said the Russian, who was the world’s top-ranked player for 20 years.

“So the element of the social integration and achievements based on your intellectual ability and your fighting spirit, that makes chess quite a unique element of the modern educational system.”

In September, his non-profit Kasparov Chess Foundation Europe, dedicated to integrating chess into the education system, is set to present the EU with its plan for teaching chess to students ages 6 to 18.

Anticipating Brussels will recommend his program to members within 18 months, Kasparov said he hopes to implement the chess curriculum across all of the EU’s 27 member states and beyond.

CHILD CHAMPIONS

Kasparov, 48, began playing chess as a small child and in 1985 became the youngest world champion at the age of just 22.

He remains the player to have achieved the highest ever points rating and recently spent a year tutoring the Norwegian child chess prodigy Magnus Carlsen, who is ranked No. 2 in the world at age 20, having already held the No. 1 spot at age 19.

For Kasparov, chess goes beyond national boundaries and cultural distinctions, providing those that play it, whether accomplished players or just beginners, with skills that are necessary even outside the realm of chess.

“It starts with a sense of responsibility. With playing chess, it means you are fully responsible for the result. If you make a good move, you win; if you make a bad move, you lose and there’s no one to blame,” he said.

“You are there to make all the difference. And today, in the modern environment with sharing responsibility, I think concentrating on your own decisions as the key to your success, or failure, is also important.”

Under his program, computers will play a role in the curriculum, providing students the opportunity to learn to play, track scores from chess competitions online and compete against one another.

However, both he and Carlsen scorn chess games played against computers, which these days can beat nearly any human player and are said to have homogenized modern chess.

In the United States, the Kasparov Chess Foundation has been promoting chess in 3,500 schools since 2002. However, Kasparov hopes its European counterpart will be more cohesive and consistent across education systems.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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